Five months after the Supreme Court threw out Montana’s 1912 campaign finance law, the state voted overwhelmingly to throw out the justices’ reasoning. Montana’s Initiative 166, which passed with 75% of the vote, disputes the high court’s constitutional analysis and directs the state’s congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling. What’s more, the state elected as governor Democrat Steve Bullock, who championed the state’s campaign-finance restrictions in his previous job as state attorney general.
For the moment, of course, the Supreme Court’s rulings remain the law of the land, and odds are long that Montanans will see their initiative lead to constitutional change. Amendments must pass both houses of Congress with two-thirds majorities and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Nonetheless, the Montana vote again puts the spotlight on Citizens United, which held that corporations and labor unions had the same First Amendment speech rights as individuals. That 5-4 ruling spelled doom for Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, a voter initiative passed to fight the mining industry’s domination of state politics. The justices nullified it in June, in an unsigned one-page opinion.
Citizens United followed precedents holding that political expenditures were the legal equivalent of political speech, since individuals can spread their views through advertising. The court has further held that while stopping corruption could justify some campaign regulations, donation limits and other tools can’t be used for “leveling the playing field” between moneyed interests and less affluent factions.
Initiative 166, by contrast, states that “the people of Montana regard money as property, not speech.” It says Montanans “intend that there should be a level playing field in campaign spending that allows all individuals, regardless of wealth, to express their views to one another and their government.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would establish that “corporations are not human being with constitutional rights,” according to the initiative.